The Washington Nationals continue to set the pace in the NL East with a 21-8 record in their last 29 division games, but that gaudy record will be put to the test this weekend in a crucial three-game showdown against the second-place New York Mets.
I have been handicapping the Nationals all season long, and with the use of Doc's Sports Unit Betting System I have also been releasing my free picks for select games. The following is a preview and free pick for this Friday's series opener at Citi Field.
Washington Nationals Free Picks, Odds and Predictions
Friday, July 31, 7:10 p.m. EST (Citi Field)
Washington wraps up a 10-game road trip this weekend with a crucial three-game series against the New York Mets, with both teams neck-and-neck for the lead in the NL East. Game 1 from Citi Field is set for Friday night at 7:10 (ET), and it will be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network.
The Nationals started this road trip by losing three of four to Pittsburgh, and following Tuesday night's 4-1 loss to Miami as +118 road underdogs they evened things up with a 7-2 victory in Game 2 as -126 road favorites. They head into Thursday's rubber match as heavy -171 favorites with staff ace Max Scherzer on the mound.
New York is in the midst of a 10-game homestand that started with a 2-2 split this past weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers. San Diego is in town this week, and so far that series has been split as well following Wednesday's 7-3 loss as a slight -105 home favorite. The moneyline odds for Thursday's Game 3 have the Mets listed as -112 favorites.
Washington at New York Betting Storylines
The Nationals may not be playing their best ball of the year, but they added a key piece to the puzzle in their bullpen to help their push for the postseason by trading for closer Jonathan Papelbon after he wore out his welcome in Philadelphia. The overall staff has struggled to match the 3.03 ERA they put up last season, which was the best in the majors. This season Washington is ranked just sixth in the National League with a team ERA of 3.64, and it has already allowed an average of 4.8 runs a game during this current road trip.
Looking to get the early jump in Friday's opener, the Nationals will turn to Gio Gonzalez as their starter. The left-hander has now won four of his last five starts after holding Pittsburgh to one earned run on five hits last Saturday. In his last start against the Mets on July 20, he picked up the win by allowing just two earned runs on six hits in six innings of work. Gonzalez's ERA on the year now stands at 3.83 with a 1.42 WHIP.
New York has to hope that some off-field issues do not spill over into this series after a proposed trade of shortstop Wilmer Flores to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez fell through at the last minute while a visibly emotional Flores was still in the lineup on Wednesday night. The bigger issue could be the team's 5-7 record in its last 12 games. The Mets are currently ranked last in the NL in scoring with an average of 3.5 runs a game. And when you take out the 15 runs they piled up in last Saturday's win over Los Angeles, this average drops to 2.8 runs over their last 11 games.
Fortunately, New York will have Matt Harvey on the mound this Friday night. The right-hander is 9-7 this season with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. He was on the mound for last Saturday's rout, and he held the Dodgers to two earned runs on six hits through seven innings. He faced the Nationals on July 20 in his previous start and picked up the loss after allowing four earned runs on five hits while going seven innings as well.
Washington at New York MLB Betting Odds and Key Trends
BetOnline has opened Washington as a +105 road underdog for Friday's series opener, while the betting odds for the Mets in this crucial NL East showdown are listed at -115. The total for the game has been set at 6.5.
The Nationals are 4-1 in Gonzalez's last five starts against a team with a winning record, and they are 26-10 in Game 1 of their last 36 series with him on the mound. The total has gone "over" in six of their last nine games.
The Mets are 4-0 in Harvey's last four starts at home, but they are just 1-5 in their last six division games. The total has gone over in six of their last nine games against the division.
Washington holds a slight 6-4 edge in the season series and it is 7-1 in Gonzalez's last eight road starts against New York. The total has stayed "under" in four of the last five meetings at Citi Field.
Washington at New York Free MLB Picks and Betting Predictions
This should be another great matchup between these starters as two of the top pitchers for each team, but I have to give the edge to the Gonzalez and the Nationals given his past success against New York. I am going with a 4-Unit play on Washington in this one as the left-hander shines again to help get his team a much-needed victory on the road.
4-Unit Play: Take Washington over New York
Read more articles by Dave Schwab
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